TikTok’s former chief to oversee investment at ByteDance

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HONG KONG (July 21): TikTok’s co-creator and former chief will oversee ByteDance Ltd’s investment arm, heading up the search for the company’s next breakthrough app and stepping further away from the viral video sensation that has been caught in the cross hairs of US-China tensions.

Alex Zhu — who previously led the world’s most successful Chinese-made app — is now in charge of ByteDance’s strategy, investment and product design, the company said in a statement. In May, ByteDance hired Walt Disney Co’s former streaming czar Kevin Mayer as TikTok’s new global chief executive officer (CEO) and said Zhu will transition to a new role as the product and strategy vice-president.

Zhu’s new role in leading ByteDance’s equity deals and content acquisitions comes as the company grows its business at home while it fights increasing global scrutiny of TikTok. The Trump administration is mulling over a ban on TikTok, while India has already prohibited its use in a wide-ranging ban of Chinese apps that includes Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat. TikTok also stopped providing services to users in Hong Kong after Beijing passed a sweeping national security law giving the police more control over the city’s online and public spheres.

ByteDance has repeatedly denied it shares user information with Beijing and sought to distance TikTok from its Chinese roots. The hiring of Mayer is one of the steps the Beijing-based company has taken to assuage international concerns.

A former SAP SE employee researching education software, Zhu co-founded the lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2014, which was later acquired by ByteDance for US$800 million (RM3.41 billion) and merged into the TikTok app. In a November interview with The New York Times, the Chinese coder said he would turn down even Chinese President Xi Jinping’s personal request to access TikTok’s user data.

In his new role, Zhu will help ByteDance build up content for its family of apps including TikTok’s Chinese twin service Douyin and news aggregator Toutiao. The company said it had some 1.5 billion monthly active users across its products. It also competes with local Internet leaders Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent in buying up the country’s hottest tech start-ups.